Global Google worker walk out to protest ‘office harassment’ and ‘inequality’

  • Demonstrations follow a newspaper report claiming Google gave a US$90 million exit package to a former executive accused of sexual harassment
  • Protests in Tokyo, Singapore, Zurich and London expected to be followed by walk outs in the US
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 November, 2018, 5:29pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 November, 2018, 8:50pm

Hundreds of Google employees and contractors across Asia staged brief midday walkouts on Thursday, with thousands more expected to follow at offices worldwide, amid claims of sexism, racism and unchecked executive power in their workplace.

In a statement late on Wednesday, the organisers called on Google parent Alphabet to add an employee representative to its board of directors and internally share pay-equity data. They also asked for changes to Google’s human resources practices intended to make bringing harassment claims a fairer process.

Demonstrations at the company’s offices around the world began at 11.10am in Tokyo and took place at the same time in other time zones. An image from the Singapore hub showed at least 100 staff protesting.

Greater numbers appeared on the streets outside Google’s Swiss office in Zurich.

In London, most employees left their desks and occupied the main auditorium in the company’s King’s Cross office. Once the room was full, some gathered outside, as did a separate contingent of employees from the company’s AI subsidiary, DeepMind, prompting confusion from those who did not recognise their corporate siblings.

“I’m here protesting against harassment in the workplace, to make sure we don’t protect or support those perpetrators of harassment,” one demonstrator told Sky News. “People are supporting those who have been harassed in any workplace situation, by any employer, and this is just part of the movement.”

Employees were being urged to leave a flier at their desk which said: “I’m not at my desk because I’m walking out in solidarity with other Googlers and contractors to protest [against] sexual harassment, misconduct, lack of transparency, and a workplace culture that’s not working for everyone.”

Earlier, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said in a statement “employees have raised constructive ideas” and the company was “taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action”.

The dissatisfaction among Alphabet’s 94,000 employees and tens of thousands more contractors has not noticeably affected company shares. But employees expect Alphabet to face recruiting and retention challenges if their concerns go unaddressed.

The demonstrations follow a New York Times report last week that said Google in 2014 gave a US$90 million exit package to Andy Rubin, a former senior vice-president, who was accused of sexual harassment.

Rubin denied the allegation in the story, which he also said contained “wild exaggerations” about his compensation. Google did not dispute the story.

The report energised a months-long movement inside Google to increase diversity, improve treatment of women and minorities and ensure the company upholds its motto of “don’t be evil” as it expands.

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Much of the organising earlier this year was internal, including petition drives, brainstorming sessions with top executives and training from the workers’ rights group

On Thursday, employees posted on social media about the walkout and were set to deliver speeches in public plazas.

Since its founding two decades ago, Google has been known around the world for its exceptional transparency with workers. Executives’ goals and insights into corporate strategy have been accessible to any employee.

But organisers said Google executives, like leaders at other companies affected by the #metoo movement, have been slow to address some structural issues.

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“While Google has championed the language of diversity and inclusion, substantive actions to address systemic racism, increase equity, and stop sexual harassment have been few and far between,” organisers stated.

They said Google must publicly report its sexual harassment statistics and end forced arbitration in harassment cases. In addition, they asked that the chief diversity officer be able to directly advise the board.

Reuters, The Guardian